Apr 14, 2023
Public sector workers show above-average vitality despite overwork and burnout
teacher helping a student in a classroom

The work of public sector employees is critical to many aspects of American life, from enforcing national security to constructing safe roadways to teaching children at public schools. This meaningful work can instill a sense of purpose in the public workforce as they make a positive impact on the people and communities they serve.

A sense of purpose is a key driver of vitality, the capacity to live life with health, strength, and energy. So it is little surprise that research from The Cigna Group shows that public sector employees have vitality levels that are slightly above the average for all working adults (with vitality scores averaging 69.6 vs. 69.3) — with a significant majority of these workers (61%) actively choosing to pursue a life of higher purpose.

In addition to having a worthwhile occupation, a majority of public sector workers report valuing and enjoying their work (65%). They also have more job security than the general working population in terms of having a standard work arrangement as a regular, permanent employee (85% vs. 68%).

The Cigna Group research examines the relationship between vitality, health, and productivity. It involves a nationwide survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adults, the largest study on the subject. This research helps inform The Cigna Group’s pursuit of a more dynamic, substantive approach to individual health – one that focuses on vitality to enable everyone to be their best selves in all aspects of life.

However, while the average vitality score for public sector employees are slightly higher than for all employed adults, fewer public workers experience high vitality levels, denoting a greater opportunity for them to boost their vitality. In fact, many are experiencing stress, overwork, and burnout, which can have negative implications for the workers and their employers.

The research shows that public sector workers experience higher rates of metabolic health conditions, which can be attributed to age as public sector workers tend to be older (52% are between the ages of 45-64, compared to 34% of the general working population).

These conditions are aggravated by stress, and public sector employees report high levels of work stress and burnout, with 70% saying they find their work stressful and 49% saying they feel depleted. They report accepting more responsibility, taking less time off work, and working longer hours than employees in other fields. According to the survey, 50% of public sector employees work 40 to 50 hours per week, compared to just 40% of all working adults.

Additionally, the research suggests a lack of workplace support. Fewer than 4 in 10 (39%) respondents say their employer shows a focus on worker health and wellness in its actions and communications. Only 13% say their employer provides a quiet place to relax, refocus, or recharge. And, just over half (54%) agree that they work in an environment that is supportive of their family and personal commitments.

“These findings show there is significant opportunity to improve the vitality of public sector employees by supporting not only their health, but also their lives outside of work,” said Dr. Stuart Lustig, medical senior director for behavioral health at Evernorth, the health services division of The Cigna Group.

As a start, Dr. Lustig recommends that public sector employers strive to enable workers to address their health needs. “Our survey shows that public sector employers, on average, tend to provide a more robust benefits package than employers across other industries,” he said. “However, it is equally important for public organization leaders and front-line managers to encourage employees to use those benefits and seek care when needed.” This means setting a work culture that recognizes the importance of maintaining good health, especially mental health. “Employees need to know that it’s OK to take some time off to go to a medical appointment or to simply de-stress. Managers and supervisors can set an example by demonstrating to their teams how they devote time during the workday to addressing their own physical and mental health needs.”

Public sector employers should also support their employees’ personal and family commitments, said Dr. Lustig, noting that just a little more than half (54%) of public sector workers report receiving such support. “A key source of stress and burnout among workers in general is a lack of work-life balance,” he said. “Allowing flexible work schedules to help employees attend to their personal needs, or to those of a loved one, can make a big difference.”

Dr. Lustig added that these actions can help public sector organizations better support the health and vitality of their employees so they can continue to effectively serve their communities, as well as attract and retain a talented workforce.

These findings are based on responses from 6,121 working adults (285 of whom were public sector employees), who were among 10,000+ U.S. adults who participated in a nationwide survey commissioned by The Cigna Group and conducted by Morning Consult, using the Evernorth Vitality Index, from May 17 to June 9, 2022.

Elderly couple happy and full of vitality

Read the report: The State of Vitality in the United States

We used the Evernorth Vitality Index to survey more than 10,000 adults across the U.S. – the largest study ever done on vitality and health.

Read the full findings